- Sam Khan Jr., ESPN Staff Writer
Texas A&M dominated Mississippi State to the tune of a 38-13 road win on Saturday at Davis Wade Stadium and again, the Aggies were efficient and explosive offensively as well as strong on defense. Let's take a closer look at three plays that tell the story of the Aggies' dominance:
Situation: Texas A&M ball, third-and-2 at the Mississippi State 36 (10:09 left in first quarter)
Score: Texas A&M 0, Mississippi State 0
Breakdown: This play shows a few things: the progress of Manziel in his pre-snap reads, Evans' aggressive nature, the communication between the two and the quick-strike ability of the offense as a whole.
This is Texas A&M's first offensive drive of the game and it is the Aggies' first third down as well. This is an area where the Aggies have been stellar all year (they rank third nationally, converting 54.2 percent of their third down tries). They are in a two-back set while Mississippi State lines up with a three-man front. An outside linebacker shows blitz from the right side of the formation and two linebackers line up behind the down linemen in the middle of the field, prepared for a possible run play.
The Bulldogs blitz not only the outside linebacker but also a cornerback, who is lined up across from Evans on the short side of the field. The corner waits until a second before the snap to show blitz, but Manziel recognizes it and reacts accordingly, firing the ball into the flats at an open Evans after a quick fake handoff to Ben Malena.
As soon as the corner blitzes and the ball is snapped, Evans quickly throws his hand up to call for the ball and Manziel delivers. That communication helped Evans catch it in time to gather himself and make another defender miss. Evans rarely goes out of bounds voluntarily, and this was no exception, as he turned upfield and evaded another defender before finally going down at the Bulldogs' 12. Three plays later, the Aggies lead 7-0.
Situation: Mississippi State ball, third-and-2 at its own 43 (1:02 left, first quarter)
Score: Texas A&M 14, Mississippi State 0
Result: Fumble by Tyler Russell, 1-yard loss for the Bulldogs.
Breakdown: Third down has also been a significant point of emphasis for the Aggies' defense. Texas A&M ranks sixth nationally in third-down conversion percentage defense (27.1 percent). Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder calls it "the money down," and the coaching staff even designates a day to work on third down defense.
The results show on a play such as this. The Bulldogs line up in the shotgun with one running back to Russell's right and four wide receivers, two on each side. The Aggies are in a nickel package with four defensive linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs. The slot receiver on the right side goes in motion before the snap and nickel corner Toney Hurd follows him as the receiver sits down on the left side of the formation behind the left tackle and left guard.
Russell takes the snap, fakes a handoff to running back LaDarius Perkins and keeps the ball, seeking first down yardage behind the loaded left side. The Aggies front four of Damontre Moore, Spencer Nealy, Kirby Ennis and Julien Obioha do a good job of getting upfield and occupying blockers.
Hurd and linebacker Steven Jenkins roam freely behind the front four, monitoring Russell's path and the unoccupied offensive lineman seeks Hurd, but Hurd dives under him and makes contact with Russell. Jenkins comes from the side to blast Russell untouched and force the ball loose. Linebacker Sean Porter also gets in on the tackle and Perkins, who is trailing wide on the play, is there to recover the fumble, but Obioha and cornerback DeShazor Everett are there shortly to end the play.
Situation: Texas A&M ball, third-and-10 at the Mississippi State 37 (12:04 left in second quarter)
Score: Texas A&M 14, Mississippi State 0
Result: 37-yard touchdown run by Manziel.
Breakdown: The keys to keep an eye on here are pass protection and heads-up play by the receivers.
It's a standard one-back, four-wide shotgun set with two receivers on each side. Mississippi State has three down linemen and three linebackers with five defensive backs. They play man-to-man coverage on this play and that opens up the middle of the field, as there isn't a single free defender spying Manziel. The Bulldogs rush four initially, which is contained by the Aggies' offensive line, though a fifth rusher comes on a delayed blitz around the left side of the formation.
Manziel appears to sense the fifth rusher, tucks the ball and runs right into open space. His speed is too much for the defensive linemen and he cuts back toward the middle of the field after seeing a free defensive back at around the 15-yard line. Receiver Ryan Swope, who was coming back toward the line of scrimmage on his pass route, turns around and gets in the way of his defender, and receiver Kenric McNeal, who was in the end zone, comes back toward Manziel and screens another would-be tackler inside the 10. Manziel's speed does the rest, as he gets in the end zone virtually untouched.
3dSam Khan Jr.
5dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough